Okay, so . . . it gives me great personal satisfaction to announce that at long (long, long, long) last, I’m on submission! Like, real. Official. Submission. To publishing houses!
Which means all kinds of fun possibilities, like adequate sleep and a return to rational thought, but especially that I get to have a life again, and read books and go out with friends, and other far less glamorous things, like raking the flowers beds.
Overall, I feel that I’m taking this on-submission thing rather well. I am composed. In fact, Tess and Maggie have both expressed alarm at my general tranquility (read: glacial). I started thinking about that. If I’m honest, I do tend to meet most large-scale developments with far more composure than, say, getting a flat tire or finding out that Vitaminwater has discontinued their line of energy drinks. Actually, it’s pretty unreasonable.
So, in honor of my contextually inappropriate self-possession, today I’m offering up definitive proof that I can be just as histrionic as anyone else. What follows is for posterity, and most especially for Tess and Maggie.
Now, I am going to tell you the Centipede Story.
First, some background:
I spent my formative years in rural Arkansas. Arkansas is home to many things, including giant moths, biting flies, and an impressive variety of weird, phosphorescent beetles.
What I’m saying is, I’ve shaken my fair share of cockroaches out of my fair share of bath towels. I was not, at that time, afraid of much when it came to things with lots of legs. I was not, for instance, afraid of centipedes.
We eventually relocated to Colorado and moved into a big sprawling house that had been divided into haphazard apartments. For the purpose of this story, its two most important features were a crawl-space underneath the floor and a cheerful girl in Apartment C who came from someplace wholesome like Duluth. She hated spiders, which was really too bad, because there were a lot of spiders in the crawl-space.
One day, in a fit of shortsightedness, she crawled down under the house and set off a bug-bomb. Suffice it to say, the bugs didn’t like it. In fact, they didn’t like it so much that they coordinated a mass exodus and came surging up through the heating vents. For the rest of the week, we could hear our poor wholesome neighbor screaming through the walls.
But we in Apartment B were made of stronger stuff. Sister Yovanoff and I were brave and rural and shockingly scientific. Sometimes, if a particularly weird-looking bug showed up, we’d put it in a jar and study it. We were placid. Occasionally (dare I say it?), self-righteously so.
Then one day I was standing at the sink, experimenting with makeup. I should point out that I was about twelve years old when this story takes place, and I was not very good with makeup. This is only important in the sense that, for the purpose of the narrative, you have to imagine that I’m wearing a lot of eyeliner. Like, a lot.
I stepped back from the mirror to admire the effect and instead of linoleum, my foot came down on something cold, hard, prickling, and moving.
I’m not a big person, and at age twelve, my ankles were about the size of a normal person’s wrists. I was what one might term slight. What I’m getting at here is, a centipede that is considered “giant” by a normal-sized person is verging on colossal when I’m twelve years old and wearing it as an anklet.
I looked down, and if you are in any way squeamish, don’t click these links. When you think centipede, you might be thinking these guys, which are kind of gross, but ultimately manageable. The titan that had come up out of the heating vent wasn’t manageable. It was this guy. And it was spiraling around my ankle and up my leg like the stripe on a barber poll.
For the first time in my life, I did the Bug Dance. You know the one. It involves shrieking, howling, flailing. I hopped around the bathroom on one foot in all my smoky-eyed glory, waving my arms and trying to shake that sucker off, and its little scratchy legs were going scratchy-scratchy up my calf and I am not ashamed to say that I carried on like an absolute lunatic.
It surprised me. I had not known, for instance, that I could scream like I was being murdered. I had not known that I could become irrationally phobic. Which I subsequently did. Not only of all centipedes ever (even itty-bitty tiny ones), but also of every single heating vent in the entire house. It was educational. Possibly damaging. Damagingly educational?
Looking back, there are many worst parts to this story. There’s the actual centipede, of course. And the self-righteous smugness that preceded it, and my enthusiastic and tragic eye-makeup, and the bald shock of finding out that I wasn’t nearly as brave as I liked to think I was, but looking back, I think the most daunting part of all was when I tried incoherently and somewhat hysterically to explain the incident to my mother, who can always be counted on to go right to the heart of things.
In typical my-mother fashion, she looked at me for a second and then said, “But honey, you’ve just never been afraid of bugs.”
I responded with a piteous cry, a positive wail: “But now I am!”